On a completely different note…

Here’s the start of the project I’ve been working on for NCIC and the New Hampshire Grand Initiative:


This is the first of many, and there are more already on deck in my computer. I’m going to be spending the next 10 months (at least, I hope) publishing and publicizing the adventure opportunities Northern New Hampshire has to offer through photos and videos. Hopefully through getting the word out there people will start to realize what an asset the region is.

And besides, who wouldn’t want to run around Coös County checking out adventure opportunities and shooting video. If only I could get it to be full time…

Just kidding, I don’t want to give up reporting, but this is a great side project for a great cause. And honestly, the job change makes me a little more confident I won’t run into conflicts of interest. I ran into one this week involving PSNH (they gave me a scholarship for a leadership program I’m doing at WMCC), and while disclosing the conflict is good enough I prefer complete separation.

Anyway, let me know if you enjoy the video. I always said the region needs to market itself better. Now I’m doing just that. Look for more of these in the coming months.

(Fhe final version should be on the NCIC Facebook page shortly, with some minor edits and additions.)

What’s Next for Cascade

Funny how things work. The week after I give my notice at the Reporter the biggest story since I’ve been in Berlin breaks, and I’m watching it as I sail away.

The deal to sell the Cascade mill fell through, according to Fraser, meaning 237 employees will almost certainly be laid off in the coming weeks. The paper mill isn’t the largest employer in the city, but many of these people have no other skills. If this mill stays closed it could add significant hardship to the region.

I was on NHPR today talking about it, giving some of the details about the events leading up to the closure. I’ve been trying to prepare for this possibility all week, including interviewing a historian on the paper industry just today to get a little more background. Tomorrow I may be on the Exchange on NHPR again talking about the closure.

It’s a little strange to be answering questions as I walk away from my full time job up there, but again I won’t be leaving the area. This event is important not to let go, not to ignore, because it is both a huge shift for Berlin/Gorham and the whole Androscoggin Valley and indicative of the struggles of industrial communities around the country. I’m going to be squeezing more into less time, but my telling the story of the North Country is far from over.

A Short Look North

Several councilors and staff members congratulated me on my new job last night at the council meeting. The discussions threw into sharp relief why the transition was a difficult decision.

Berlin has been good to me. My bosses at the Reporter allowed me to chase whatever stories I wanted, and city staff, politicians, business owners and residents always welcomed me into their lives and opened up about stories, issues and events. I’ve been out on my own, but in a community, not just a city.

So why go? Because the Reporter’s resources are limited, and being a one man show in a city of 10,000 is a tough job. Many times I felt outmatched, if for no other reason than because I was alone. To get the resources to handle such a challenge I need to be the least experienced reporter in a newsroom for a while, not the only reporter in a newsroom on wheels.

But I don’t want to give up my connection to the North Country. I’m already digging into some bigger projects with more long-term objectives than a daily or even weekly newspaper. Things are changing in Berlin, some for the good, others for bad. I don’t intend to lose track of that.

I want to tell stories better; that’s what this next move is all about. I want to see how the daily deadline works for me, how the pressure to generate content in hours, not days, affects my work. But I don’t intend to reduce the other projects I’m working on, the larger pieces that fill out the flesh of daily reporting. They tell a side I haven’t been able to get into so far, but it is lining up for the future.

I won’t have the time I had at the Reporter, I won’t have the same flexibility, but a close friend of mine told me she works better under pressure than when she has the time to put things off. I think that’s a universal: when forced to perform, we do. Daily deadlines are one version of that paradigm, as are my non-print projects. I may have to squeeze them in, but in doing so I may just do them more, do them better.

But I will miss the daily connection with the North Country, and I will lament having to “squeeze them in.” But if the outcome is better storytelling, better reporting and a more impactful version of history, the sacrifice is worth it. I may miss the North Country, but it I can tell its story better it’s a change worth making.

The Length of the Story

I have a hard time expressing everything I see, everything I hear, everything I think is of value. It is almost a physical impossibility to get it all across.

Think about it: my job is to go around and talk to people all week, to find out what is going on in Berlin, and to put it down on paper. How many conversations do I have? And how many come to nothing? Lots, that’s the answer for both.

There is so much there. It is unlike anywhere else I’ve been. There is a sense I get every time I drive north on Route 16 that I’m traveling back in time to an era when neighborhoods where connected. It’s an entirely unfair feeling, since lots of people in Berlin are transient or recent emigres, but it’s what I feel nonetheless.

And every random five minute conversation tells me something more about the city. Every time I stop by the police station is see a small town going through growing pains, and I don’t know how to get that across.

Growing pains—a funny way to refer to it in a city that has lost more than half its population. But that’s what it is. Prior to the pulp mill closing, people didn’t move to Berlin. It was largely left alone to flourish, and only the resilient Berliners had what it took to live beneath the stacks.

But today, with the smell gone and the jobs gone with it, there are lots of reasons to move there. Most of them wind up in people’s pocket at the end of the month, saved from what they would have had to pay in a rental unit downstate.

Berlin is attracting an influx from away, and it isn’t the kind every resident wants. But what kind is the kind every resident wants?

I’ve heard people talk about how the smell from the mill used to be called “tourist repellent.” I grew up on the coast of Maine, so I can understand that sentiment, but I wonder how that impacts today’s environment. I have heard people express their support for ATVers visiting the area, but what happens when a different style of tourist discovers the city?

Berlin is blue-collar, and that’s largely how it wants to stay. The people flocking there now, mostly to take up residence in the slums, are not welcomed by residents. What about the other end of the spectrum? I know that isn’t currently Berlin’s problem, but I do wonder how people would like BMWs, Audis and Volvos clogging the city streets instead of ATVs and lifted four-by-fours.

Those are the things I can’t get across. Those are the feelings, the details, that tell me so much about Berlin, that make it dear to me. It is working class, maybe to the point there is too much class struggle in residents’ identities. But how does that impact them in the 21st century, when the Great North Woods no longer shelter them and no longer provide the economic engine they once did?

I am looking for a way to tell that story. That’s the one that needs to get out.

Not the Usual

This has been an atypical week in a number of ways. Between chasing down Reporter stories and trying to scrape something together for NHPR I’ve been flat out. Today I took a break for a dose of education.

I shoot video already, but I’m far from what I would call an expert, so I spent this (last?) beautiful September day in front of my computer attending a webinar on video storytelling.

I’ve got a week left at the Reporter, but I will be in fact devoting more time to telling the story of Coös County soon. This class was my launching off point.

Working for a paper, even a weekly, makes it difficult to dive into the true nature of a place. The true nature of Berlin isn’t in it’s weekly council meetings, and Coös County is far beyond the police logs. It has a depth that doesn’t lend itself to the broadsheets, or at least not the broadsheets as gathered by such a small staff.

I look at a year and a half worth of Reporters next to At the River’s Edge, the recent documentary about Berlin. Which tells more about the city? Which gets more to its roots?

I have toyed with a documentary about Berlin for a while, but I have no experience with such complex projects. I do think, however, that while At the River’s Edge told the history of Berlin, no one has yet told its present. That is where I see my future.

I need to improve my storytelling, without a doubt, before I will do such a task justice. But the real story of Berlin is too broad for 500 words.

And it is a story more broad than just Berlin. I found these today while looking wasting time between speakers in my class:

Look familiar?

The decline of the paper industry devastated from Bangor to Berlin and beyond, it isn’t just one town’s story. But that universality can’t be told by looking wide, it takes focus to get it across.

I’m taking a new job, but in a way it has given me renewed focus on just what it is I want to do in northern New Hampshire. That was always the problem working at the Reporter; connections with colleagues were tenuous. I was out there working alone. It’s easy in that environment to lose inspiration, to get bogged down in the day to day and miss the bigger picture. The real story is so much bigger, so much more complex, that it would take me an hour to relate.

But I have that hour. I have all the time in the world. I just need to go get the story, and bring it back to people who want to hear it.